HANCOCK - School districts throughout Michigan are facing budget cuts that threaten jobs and the quality of student education by making it increasingly difficult for schools to stay up-to-date on technology.
However, a local organization is ensuring that Copper Country students have access to the latest technology without endangering local school districts' bottom line.
REMC 1 provides important technology collaboration for Michigan schools, enabling more opportunities to provide students with access to the latest technology at a less expensive rate.
"We're here for the kids. That's why we're here is to improve teaching and learning, and technology is going to be a key component of that," said Mike Richardson, director of REMC 1, which represents the Copper Country Intermediate School District and Gogebic-Ontonagon ISD.
In July, Richardson won the Internet2 K20 (kindergarten through university level) Initiative Innovator award, which "highlights individuals from within the Internet2 K20 Initiative community who have exhibited excellence in technology support of community anchor institutions."
Internet2, which is provided in Michigan through the Merit network, is an education- and research-only next-generation Internet that provides universities, K-12 schools and research centers with an advanced high-speed network.
"The Internet2 community all across the country is trying to do what we do as far as push technology forward ... and collaborate with each other so we're not all reinventing the wheel - and we (REMC 1) do that well," Richardson said.
REMC 1 provides virtualized, centralized hosting, firewalls, content filtering and more for school districts that want it through the ISD. Calumet, Baraga and L'Anse all provide their own on-site tech support based on staffing and infrastructure that was in place before REMC started offering their services, but most local districts, particularly smaller ones, utilize REMC's services.
"We have a lot of small schools who may not be able to do things on their own, whereas if we can aggregate that and work together, we can provide higher quality services at lower costs," Richardson said. "It's always about dollars. There's never enough money to go around, but if we can get better value for what we do and provide a higher quality service - if we can truly get down to the point where we're improving learning through technology, then we've done our job."
REMC 1, which has been around since the 1970s, has been providing Internet for local schools since 1996 and on-site tech support since 2004, through its nine full-time staff and nine interns. All the interns are from Michigan Technological University, who REMC and the CCISD partner with. REMC also provides its services to Finlandia University, the Houghton County Courthouse and Sheriff and the Western U.P. Health Department.
REMC 1 houses seven physical servers and 75 virtual servers in its Hancock facility, which it shares with the CCISD. If one of the physical servers fails, another backs it up, creating higher availability and reliability, along with improved speed and more uptime.
It might seem more challenging to provide such advanced technology in a rural area, but Richardson said it's a lot easier to implement changes within a smaller infrastructure.
"There are definitely increased costs because we're remote ... but being smaller we can also be more flexible. We can work with our districts to showcase our technology and adapt and implement it," he said.
Some of the up-and-coming technologies, according to Richardson are additional video streaming services that would allow students access to educational opportunities 24/7 through blended learning (in- and out-of-classroom learning), and eventually electronic textbooks.
"We're finally going to get to electronic textbooks. They've been saying it for 20 years, but we're getting close to having the infrastructure and the technology to make that work," Richardson said.
Technology is becoming increasingly integrated into everyday life, and through REMC, local students have the chance to engage with the latest innovations and prepare for a technologically advanced future.
"Technology is becoming more important all the time - it's becoming integrated in everything we do. Kids are technology-driven and ... if they can better utilize technology, they're more prepared for any job in the future."